Cleveland church needs fire security updates to house homeless

City of Cleveland issues violation warning to church
Updated: Dec. 26, 2019 at 11:25 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Denison United Church of Christ faces a difficult dilemma.

A new statement issued Thursday afternoon outlines the the city of Cleveland’s concerns with the church housing the homeless.

A few weeks ago, the church began a partnership with the Metanoia Project, a local nonprofit that aims to shelter the homeless in Cleveland. However, the city’s public safety department sent the church a cease use notice.

Part of the notice asks the church to update its fire security.

Pastor Nozomi Ikuta understands the need to update the building’s fire safety, but not the order to change the church’s identity.

“You’re asking to update our fire extinguishers, that’s understandable," she explained. "But you’re asking us to change the use of our building. We’re a church, we have services here.”

19 News reached out to city representatives, but they were not available for comment due to the holiday.

On Thursday the city of Cleveland issued a statement on the Denison Avenue United Church of Christ.

Cleveland informed the church that “certain requirements would need to be met" in order to house homeless.

In the statement Thursday, the city said the division of fire has concerns in the event of an emergency.

Ikuta hopes to find a solution that will allow the church to continue to help the homeless while also retaining their religious title.

The church has 30 days to appeal the order.

“If there’s a will, I’m sure there will be a way, we just have to find the will,” she said.

Entire statement from the city of Cleveland concerning the Denison Avenue Church of Christ:

“The City of Cleveland first became aware in September, through Cleveland City Council, of the Denison Avenue United Church of Christ (UCC)’s intent to house people overnight. At that time the Department of Building & Housing (B&H) was in communication with the church about was necessary for it to become a temporary R-1 transient use facility, noting that certain requirements would need to be met. Requirements include an application to B&H for review. The review would include egress, fire protection and life safety measures. The local community development corporation contacted B&H claiming the church was already housing people overnight. B&H sent out an inspector on Dec. 6 and the church committed to making an application for the change of use.

On Dec. 20, a violation order was issued by B&H. The church has 30 days to appeal the order. The City was told by the church it would file the appeal but as of today has not received it. The church is still welcome to submit a temporary R-1 transient use application, which would give it 180 days to operate its shelter. If the application were rejected because upgrades to, for example, a sprinkler system were not made, the findings could be appealed and the review board could consider a variance.

In addition, the Division of Fire had a number of safety concerns. On Tuesday Dec. 24, prior to issuing its Cease Use order, Fire Chief Angelo Calvillo met with church officials to discuss the City’s concerns about not meeting fire codes for residential facilities. The church can appeal the order within seven days of its issuance. Should the church continue to house people during that time, the Division of Fire will require someone to serve as a fire watch. The fire watch is required to monitor the area for fire, alert occupants, report it and make basic attempts to extinguish the fire. This person is not required to be a firefighter.

The church’s current legal use is for assembly. In order to change it for temporary residential use (R1) – which would not affect its operations as a worship space - the Denison Avenue UCC would be required to apply for a change of use with the Department of Building & Housing.

These codes and standards are in place so that in the event of an emergency, those inside are as safe as possible.

Additional updates will be posted to GovQA.”

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